After years of grinding in the music industry, the Queen of Bounce is finally seeing her profile rise. The star talks crafting her upcoming EP, collaborating with Kesha and more.
On the morning of Big Freedia's birthday, the New Orleans star is keeping things low-key. She has plans to do a little bit of shopping for herself, go out for dinner and get some drinks with her family. But for the most part, she's taking some time to herself. "I'm really just chillin' right now," she tells Billboard over the phone. "Just relaxing."
It may come as a surprise to some that Freedia is a proud member of the "Aquarius gang," as she recently wrote on her Instagram. But take a closer look at the traits associated with her sign, and you'll see the bounce icon's personality begins to come into full view: according to astrologer Aliza Kelly Faragher, Aquarians are "revolutionary thinkers" who are "aspiring to change the world through radical social progress" and "despise authority and anything that represents conventionality."
"Revolutionary" is one of the best words to describe Freedia; known internationally as the Queen of Bounce, the star has spent the majority of her career working in and fighting for New Orleans' undeniable hip-hop scene. "Conventionality" is a word that doesn't fit anywhere near her; working as a queer, gender-bending performer in a historically overlooked subgenre of hip-hop is far from conventional.
As for her aspirations to change the world, "I said that I wanted to get bounce all around the globe, to make people aware of our culture and what we doing," she says, confidently. "I think I've done a great job thus far."
Over the course of the last decade, Freedia has managed to do just that — starting with her Fuse reality show Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce in 2013, and extending through her collaborations with artists on songs like Beyoncé's "Formation" and Drake's "Nice for What", the once-little-known NOLA rapper has become a beacon for the community at large.
For her part, Freedia is grateful that her come-up has been slower than usual, saying that she wouldn't have been able to make the impact she's making today if she suddenly popped onto the scene. "I'm grateful to have a slow pace of coming up, instead of just a 'boom, wham, I did it' situation," she says. "Now, I have a purpose, and a reason for being the artist that I am, and to help a lot of different people who don't have a voice — to be the voice for them."
It was just recently that Freedia's voice was once again amplified in the mainstream: Kesha tapped the diva to accompany her on her single "Raising Hell," and is bringing Freedia with her on her upcoming North American High Road tour.
Freedia and Kesha first met aboard the "Tik Tok" singer's Weird & Wonderful Rainbow Ride cruise in February 2019, where the two hit it off instantly. As Freedia tells it, they grew to love each other so much that on the final day of the cruise, they got matching fish tattoos on their hands.
"We connected right away," she recalls. "We text a lot, we talk to each other a lot, we perform a lot, and we're going on tour together. So yeah, we're definitely on another level."
Part of the reason the two connected so quickly, Freedia says, is because of Kesha's genuine enthusiasm for collaboration. While Freedia has had problems in the past with receiving proper credit for her work on big name artists' tracks, she says Kesha has gone out of her way to make sure that her work is acknowledged. "Being on the multi-platinum songs I've been on with different artists, I can say that I have definitely got the credit that I deserve being with Kesha," she says. "I'm just very grateful. Very grateful, and very humbled and very appreciative for her introducing me to her audience — I do the same on my end, you know?"
Their collaboration won't end there, though. As Freedia appears on High Road (which was released today), Kesha will also be making an appearance on Freedia's hotly anticipated new EP Louder, due out March 13 via East West Records. The singer pops in on "Chasing Rainbows," Freedia's upcoming bounce hit, which she says takes on a more personal tone than her past work.
"That's going into me telling a story about growing up, but it also has a catchy feel on it," she says. "It's also bouncy, it's a vibe. Even at the end, I go into a bounce, repetitive moment where I have something for everybody to shake."
Even on her lead single from the project, "Louder," Freedia takes a short reprieve from her classic sound — the Icona Pop-supported track occasionally delves into bounce's purposefully repetitive "shake your ass" lyrics (as Freedia calls them), but sees Freedia dropping harder, faster, more sculpted bars than ever before, along with interpolating Snap!'s "The Power" for an added flair of '90s hip-hop flavor.
Freedia says she intentionally went out of her way to create something different for her new EP. "The whole project itself, just the delivery of the words, the beat, the sound is something totally new that I've never done," she says. "I'm coming harder, so I'm using a lot more in my songs, a lot more production, a lot more hours. I'm making sure it's tight, I'm stepping the production up a whole lot."
But the "Rent" singer makes it clear that the EP is still grounded in her bounce roots, saying that her job is to make sure her fans are getting the music they signed up for. "My fans want to hear the club bangers, and they wanna hear the stuff that's gonna make them shake their ass," she says. "So that's why I have to do it a certain kind of way, just to keep my fans connected to me. They wanna hear a Big Freedia song, and they wanna get in the club and be busting."
She admits that she sometimes does feel limited by her specific genre of expertise, saying that she tries to add in new production elements every now and then to acheive a sense of "balance" for herself and her fans. But at the end of the day, she wants the same things that they do. "It's a hype thing for me. It's an adrenaline rush, when I flip that switch and go on stage, it's all about energy," she says. "So even if it does go into another direction of another sound, it's gotta be snappy, and it's gotta be catchy. It's hard for me to go out there and be very mellow ... I wanna feel something when I deliver it in the booth."
As her fan base, her list of collaborators and the definition of her sound all continue to grow, Freedia says she still faces skepticism from potential collaborators based on her race and sexuality. "I feel like being black and being gay has held me back from certain levels in the music industry, because not everybody wants to work with a gay artist," she says. "They may say, 'Oh, what are the people gonna say, what are the fans gonna say?'"
But she's not worried about it. It didn't stop her before, so it certainly won't stop her now. "The world is steadily changing on a slow pace. Things take time, but I'm patient," she says. "I just keep on making noise, and they see me. Even the people who may not wanna work with me because they're afraid of what people are gonna say, they see me and they know I'm here. [As] long as I get my respect, I'm cool."